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The next few days passed strangely, almost like an uneasy truce, except there hadn’t been a war. Pabbio came out to the galleon one evening for dinner, but he was ill-at-ease. He found it too claustrophobic below deck, and the fact that there were so many people around made it even more so. There wasn’t the space of his house to spread everybody about in. He looked like a cosseted only child who had suddenly been thrown into the chaotic hurly-burly of a very large family.
The following night Julian ordered (rather forcefully) that they were all to have a break from Pabbio’s company. He was to stay in his house, and they were all to stay on the ship. Bardin had taken mild offence at Pabbio’s parting comment that “in future it’ll probably be best if you come to me”, and so was quite happy to acquiesce with Julian’s orders.
The Indigo-ites were getting restless. The novelty of Pabbio’s house was wearing off, it felt too much - in Joby’s words - “like a theme park with no customers”. The man-made fog had cleared, and there was no sign on the horizon of the bounty-hunters. Some of them were speculating amongst themselves about taking the risk and just heading off. But the risk was still there all the same, and it was a great one. On the island they were safe, but if they stayed they could be there for quite some time (when Kieran openly suggested again that it could be years, he got another whipping from Julian), and this was quite a prospect to absorb.
“I have got the judgement of Solomon on my hands”, said Bardin, magnificently.
“You haven’t got to make the decision all by yourself, Bardin”, said Adam, in exasperation.
But Bardin was clearly enjoying his moment of grave, solemn decision-making too much to agree.
“Well we seem to have really snookered ourselves into a corner this time”, said Julian, having an impromptu meeting with Ransey and Bardin in his cabin a short while later.
Ransey wasn’t saying much, but was fretfully pacing up and down the confined space. Bardin had been watching him for a while.
“I think the only thing we can reasonably do at the moment”, said Bardin, eventually “Is to sit it out here for a little while, and then if nothing happens … say in a month’s time … we’ll review the situation then”.
“That’s if we know when a month has passed!” said Ransey, irritably.
“We’ll keep a tally”, said Bardin, who couldn’t help feeling amused at the idea “Carve notches on a piece of wood”.
“A month you say?” said Ransey.
“It’s either that or we take a helluva gamble”, said Bardin “And risk being out on the high seas, with bounty-hunters in pursuit of Kieran. I DON’T think that’s a risk worth taking, do you?”
“No I don’t”, said Ransey.
“Good, so we’re agreed”, said Bardin, preparing to leave the room in a jaunty manner “I’ll ask Hillyard to look out a piece of wood we can use as a calendar!”
Bardin took Bengo over to the house for another wander round. The more Bengo saw of the house the more lost and bewildered he felt in it. It was so huge, echoing and empty.
“I feel smaller and more insignificant every time we come here”, he said.
“Well perhaps if we keep familiarising ourselves with it”, said Bardin, who for all his talk was keeping a comforting hold of Bengo’s hand “We’ll get used to it, and then it won’t feel so strange”.
Bengo had his doubts about that, (and so, inwardly, did Bardin). They drifted into the opulent main hallway at the dead centre of the building. They had only recently discovered this, as they usually came into the house via the caves at the back of the building, and the first time they had arrived they had entered by the south-facing tunnel, which led out to the rocky beach.
The grand hallway boasted a magnificent red-carpeted stairway, which wound round in a broad sweep to a circular landing. The ceiling was an impressive round skylight.
“It feels like the entrance to a really grand theatre”, said Bengo.
“Mm”, said Bardin “How the Cabaret would have LOVED to have been no doubt!”
At the top they went through a doorway on the left-hand side and found themselves in the corridor which contained the gilt balconies overlooking the ballroom.
“How did we end up here?” said Bengo “I thought the ballroom was further along than this”.
“Who knows with this house”, said Bardin.
He suddenly noticed Pabbio watching them from a balcony on the opposite side of the room. Bardin had the unnerving feeling that perhaps Pabbio had been following them around the building.
“What’s he doing, just standing there?” said Bengo.
“Perhaps he’s got a thing about clowns!” said Bardin.
There was a soft, but distinct rumbling noise in the far distance.
“Oh god, what was that?” Bengo exclaimed.
“It’s just thunder I expect”, said Bardin “I wish you’d calm down, you’re making me jump!”
“There it goes again!” said Bengo.
“That was definitely thunder”, said Bardin “Let’s try and find our way outside, and see if there’s a storm coming”.
After a few frustrating wrong turns they found themselves out on a balcony which overlooked the eastern end of the island. The view was sparse and dramatic, with boulders of huge rock seemingly running out into the sea. Dark clouds had gathered overhead, and there was the strangely invigorating sound of rumbling in the far distance.
“Bardy, are you alright?” asked Bengo, in concern.
Bardin had bent double and seemed to be in some pain.
“My back”, he groaned “I feel as though someone’s clouted me with a big block of ice, at the small of my back. It’s just suddenly come on. It’s excruciating”.
“I’ll get you back to the galleon”, said Bengo “Lean on me as much as you can”.
At first Bengo panicked that they were ever going to find their way out again from that tiresome house, which seemed to delight in playing pointless, malicious jokes on them. Eventually they relocated the galleon in the echo-y cavern, and found Hillyard on the main deck.
“Something’s happened to Bardy’s back”, said Bengo “Could you come down and give it a massage around or something?”
“Your back’s really cold”, said Hillyard, once he had examined Bardin in his cabin “But otherwise I can’t feel anything out of place”.
“It feels as though it’s become frozen”, said Bardin “It was weird the way it just suddenly came on like that, but I haven’t pulled anything. It doesn’t feel like that. I’ve pulled enough muscles in my time to know what it feels like. I don’t know what it is”.
“Can you do anything for him, Hillyard?” said Bengo, anxiously.
“Bengo”, said Bardin, sternly “Go and make us all a cup of tea. At once!”
Bengo shuffled out of the room.
“Got to stop him panicking somehow”, said Bardin, after he had gone.
“I’m a practical man, as you know”, said Hillyard “I leave all the mystic stuff to Kieran, and I think this is more his department”.
“How do you mean?”
“It’s like some kind of physical psychic-attack. I’ve seen it before”.
“Where is Kieran?” said Bardin.
“He’s over at the house”, said Hillyard “He wanted to go and look round Pabbio’s library”.
“It’s a well-stocked library you’ve got here, Pabbio”, said Kieran, wandering around, dwarfed by the tall shelves of books which lined the room “You must have been collecting for years, or did you magic them up at once like your food?”
“You have quite an acerbic way about you at times don’t you, Kieran?” said Pabbio, uneasily “You don’t seem to appreciate that I’m trying to help you”.
“Oh I do appreciate it”, said Kieran “It’s just you can’t blame me if I find this whole island a wee bit disconcerting. The place is like an illusion. A very large and very complex illusion”.
“And you don’t trust me”, said Pabbio, seating himself behind a desk that so solid and huge that it almost concealed him.
“I want to trust you, Pabbio”, said Kieran “But I don’t feel at ease. I feel as though you could trick us or pull the rug out from under our feet at any time”.
Pabbio gave an aggravating smirk.
“Nothing you can’t handle I’m sure”, he said.
“Pabbio”, Kieran sighed.
“Oh Kieran, allow yourself a bit of frivolity”, said Pabbio “I thought you were supposed to be quite a fun-loving person”.
“I am”, said Kieran “Except when there’s a lot at stake”.
“The bounty-hunters won’t find you here”, said Pabbio “I shall see to that. This island has a mythical status. Most people aren’t aware that it really exists”.
“That doesn’t mean they can’t stumble upon us”, said Kieran “Particularly when, from what you’ve told us, there is a lot of money riding on them finding us”.
“What are you saying?” said Pabbio, springing anxiously to his feet.
“What I’m saying is that we may have to move after all”.
“B-but you won’t find anywhere safer than this”.
Kieran forbore to comment on that. He was seriously beginning to wonder if being out on the high seas being pursued by bounty-hunters, might well turn out to be safer than trying to spend any considerable length of time in this freaky house.
Hillyard poked his head around the door.
“There you are, found you at last”, he said “This place is like a sodding maze”.
“This place has nearly a 1000 rooms”, said Pabbio, spiffily.
“Yeah, and I feel like I’ve just walked around all of them looking for Kieran!” said Hillyard.
“What’s up?” said Kieran.
“Bardin’s got something wrong with his back”, said Hillyard “And he doesn’t think the cause is physical. We want you to have a look at him”.
Kieran agreed to come along immediately, but first there was the perennial problem of finding their way out of the building again.
“Didn’t you bring a ball of string with you?” Kieran joked.
“No but I think I’m going to start doing that”, said Hillyard “Either that or get Pabbio to paint arrows on the walls!”
“I’m sure we’ve got to go down a level”, said Kieran, uncertainly.
“Better take this staircase then”, said Hillyard “It seems to go downwards”.
They descended a wooden skeleton staircase which took them down to a gloomy long corridor with very poor light.
“Well we seem to be in some sort of cave”, said Kieran “Hewn out of a cave I mean, so we might be on the right track”.
“Yeah, but the whole island is a cave”, said Hillyard “Watch you don’t slip on this flooring, it’s as damp as anything. Look, I think if we try and find our way out this way, we’ll never be seen again”.
“Like the phantom piper of Culzean Castle”, said Kieran “What’s this door over here?”
They went over to a white-painted timber door, which had a window high up in it. The door was securely locked.
“Can you see anything through it?” said Kieran, who wasn’t as tall as Hillyard.
“It’s too dark”, said Hillyard “But it seems to be a landscape of some sorts. It leads outside anyway”.
“More volcanic rock I presume”, said Kieran.
“No I don’t think it is”, said Hillyard “There seems to be trees and things”.
He tried the door again, but it wasn’t going to budge.
“We’d better leave that for another time”, said Kieran “Let’s go back up these steps and find Bardin”.
“Is it physical?” said Bardin, when they did finally make their way back to the galleon “I mean, is it natural causes?”
“No”, said Kieran, after he had finished prodding around at Bardin’s lower back “Something’s been draining your psychic energy. This is a classic sign of that”.
“But can it be put right?” said Bengo.
“It’ll pass of it’s own accord in a short time”, said Kieran “You’ve just got to be a wee bit patient that’s all”.
“But is there nothing that can be done?” said Bengo, plaintively.
“Bengo, go and make some more tea”, said Bardin.
“But I don’t think anybody wants any more tea, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“I wouldn’t mind a cuppa”, said Hillyard.
Bengo left the room as though he was uncertain as to where the galley was.
“He’s going to drive me mad”, said Bardin.
“Be grateful for his anxiety”, said Kieran “It might be helping to protect you from this attack being any worse”.
“Who is doing it?” said Bardin “Is it that Pabbio friend of yours?”
Kieran visibly bridled at Pabbio being described as his “friend”, but he kept his cool. “I don’t know”, he said “I don’t want to say for definite that it’s him, as it could be down to a wayward negative entity that’s at large in the house”.
Bardin struggled to his feet. Hillyard and Kieran rushed to help him, but even in his decrepit state he was on his feet before they could.
“Let’s get over there and confront him”, he said.
“Bardin I don’t think you’re in any fit st …” Kieran began, but it was hopeless trying to stop Bardin when he was fired up. Like trying to halt a charging rhinoceros in his tracks.
“You can barely walk, man!” Hillyard protested.
“Then find me that walking-stick that Kieran uses when he’s over-excited himself”, said Bardin “I’ll lean on that”.
Hillyard gave a heartfelt sigh and left the room.
“I’ll tell you something, Kieran”, said Bardin “If your friend is responsible for this …”
“And I’ll tell you something, Bardin”, said Kieran “If you refer to Pabbio as my ’friend’ again, I’ll get him to use his powers to banish you to a reform school for psychotic clowns! You can spend all day dodging violent food-fights!”
Bardin gave a guffaw of laughter.
“I don’t think I could dodge anything very nimbly at the moment!” he said.
Hillyard returned with the walking-stick, and Bardin climbed, with some considerable difficulty, up the quarterdeck steps. By this time he had acquired Joby and Bengo in his entourage as well. Toppy, who had been polishing boots in the outdoor equipment store next to the galley, was now hopping about anxiously.
“You can keep an eye on the galley until we get back”, Joby ordered him.
“But what if Adam comes back from his nap?” said Topy “What do I tell him has happened?”
“Just tell him it’s all Bardin’s fault”, said Joby “He’ll understand”.
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